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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - New Malaysian labour laws could aid Cambodian workers

New Malaysian labour laws could aid Cambodian workers

But migrant labour groups say they were not consulted about the draft legislation and have been unable to receive copies.

LABOUR WOES

Migrant domestic workers in Malaysia are explicitly excluded from most of Malaysia's 1955 Employment Act. Under the law, domestic workers are not considered "workers" have no right to regular time off and no guarantees about working conditions.

VAT Srey, 32, went to Malaysia as a domestic worker six years ago to try to support her family; but the moment she landed, it became clear that domestic work in Malaysia was not what she had hoped for.

"The agency [that brought me to Malaysia] deprived me of my passport as soon as I arrived," she said.

Her employers threatened her and forced her to work long hours, leaving her exhausted and frightened.

"I had to get up and start work at 3am ... and then continue until midnight," she said. "Before they [the family I worked for] left for work, they would always threaten to cut my fingers."

Vat Srey isn't alone. The country employs about 400,000 migrant domestic workers, according to Malaysian migrant labour group Tenaganita, and they still do not enjoy the same rights as other foreign workers.

Accurate statistics about the number of Cambodian domestic workers in Malaysia are unavailable, but the Coordination of Action Research on Aids and Mobility (CARAM) says there are about 10,000 Cambodian migrants in Malaysia, many of whom are domestic workers.

But Malaysia is drafting new laws aimed at protecting this  vulnerable population.

"We have proposed three new provisions in law to deal with sexual harassment, wages and their working conditions," said Sabri Karmani, the deputy director general of the Malaysian Labour Department told AFP last week.

Ivy Josiah, the executive director at the Women's Aid Organisation in Malaysia, said a law protecting domestic workers would be a welcome step.

"If we have a specific law," she said, "it would heighten awareness among employers and agents that all of those people [exploiting domestic workers] are breaking the law."

But Tenaganita is not yet convinced that real solutions to domestic worker abuse are in the pipeline.

Glorene Dass, a program officer at Tenaganita, said that though the organisation had heard about new laws, it had not been able to obtain a copy and that it and other relevant groups had not been consulted by the government.

 "We are not aware of the status nor the progress of the legislation ... we have not been called for any dialogue by the relevant agencies before drafting the legislation - therefore we are a little concerned," she wrote in an email last week.

Yath Navuth, the executive director of CARAM, welcomed protections for domestic workers and said Cambodia should make similar strides.

"The Cambodian government should consider making similar laws so that Cambodian domestic workers who come from the provinces to Phnom Penh households can be protected by the law."

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